Alter Everything

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Ever thought about starting an analytics center of excellence from the ground up?  We are joined by Jared Carollo, Director of Analytics and Innovation in the Accounting Advisory & Outsourcing group at BDO, as he walks us through the importance of upskilling and his tips for building a center of excellence in your own company! From blowing coworkers' minds with how easy processes can become using Alteryx Designer to tips on avoiding burnout, you won't want to miss this informative episode.






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Episode Transcription


[00:00:00] Megan Dibble: Hi everyone. We recently launched a short engagement feedback survey for the Alter Everything podcast. Click the link in the episode description wherever you're listening to let us know what you think and help us improve our show. Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data science and analytics culture.

I'm Megan Dibble, and today I'm talking with Jared Carollo, the director of analytics and innovation in the accounting advisory and outsourcing group at BDO. Jared shares about his experiences transitioning from Excel to Alteryx. Building an analytic center of excellence and how he works through the challenges of change management.

Let's get started Jared It's great to have you on our podcast today. 

[00:00:45] Jared Carollo: Yeah, I'm excited to be here 

[00:00:47] Megan Dibble: Could you give an introduction to yourself to our listeners? 

[00:00:51] Jared Carollo: Absolutely. My name is Jared Carolla currently work at BDO That's the world's fifth largest accounting firm. Well, however, my background is not accounting and I have more of a finance and data science background, but I joined BDR about a year ago and a department called at that time it was business services and outsourcing, and I think I wanted somebody from the outside to come in and have a bit of fresh eyes on developing a plan for the department.

So I've been out there for about a year. And yeah, I've been heavily involved in bringing Alteryx into the department. And on a personal note, I live in Athens, Georgia with my wife and a black lab. We love it. Love it here. 

[00:01:33] Megan Dibble: That's awesome. So could you tell us how you started using Alteryx? 

[00:01:37] Jared Carollo: Absolutely. So first came across it actually in my previous company, which was Ronstad.

It's the largest global staffing company publicly. I've been there for about five years in the FP& A team and did a lot over all the team and ended up really dedicating my life to Excel, whether that be standard or learning VBA, but kind of at the five year mark. Fortunately, we had a new CEO, joined the company from the outside with more of a data and analytics background.

It was right around the time I was questioning if there was more to the world than Excel. And so the stars aligned. And so the stars aligned. And I still remember in the middle of the engagements, walking down the hallway years ago, when I used to go to an office and went, well, it's a different place and walk by a conference room.

And upon a big screen was this program called Alteryx I had never seen before. It looked completely foreign to me, but really interesting. So I popped my head in and asked them about it and they gave me a quick description of it. But what resonated with me. And was that part of the engagement requirement was that the work had to be transitioned to Ronstadt to run internally and Ronstadt did not have Alteryx, so they were having to code it in Python to provide the Python to us, but they were first doing it in Alteryx and they said it was quicker for them to figure out all the data and what was needed to be done.

In Alteryx and then replicate it in Python rather than just doing it straight away in Python. And that just blew me away that they were literally doing the work twice quicker than once. And so that stuck with me. Well, if you fast forward the clock, six or nine months, and myself and my mentor started a centralized advanced analytics team.

And we actually brought Ultrix into North America at Ronstadt and we ended up doing it for our own department that we started, but also about a dozen other in the U S and we had, I think about 35 Ultrix designer licenses and had the server and managed all that and created a center of excellence for it to provide training and.

One online coaching for all those because it was new to everyone. 

[00:03:53] Megan Dibble: Yeah, that's crazy. That would stick with me too if I saw people using all tricks to then have to go into Python just because. Altrix provided that many advantages that they're willing to do it twice. I mean, I've seen it before where it can really speed things up cause you can preview your data.

You can see what's going on. It's so visual, but that's, that's a super interesting little anecdote. I love that. 

[00:04:17] Jared Carollo: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Plus there was a few analysts working on the engagement set. I'm sure it was easy for them to collaborate, uh, and Altrix then just handing over draft scripts to each other back and forth.

So yeah, there was that. It's a wealth of advantages, but you're totally right about altruism. Provides so much transparency to the data every step of the way. It really makes it a lot more efficient to ingest a lot of data and be able to play around if they didn't understand the nuance that's in the data.

[00:04:45] Megan Dibble: Totally. So I was hoping you could tell us about some of the Excel work that you've seen at BDO and how you've worked towards automating those processes. 

[00:04:56] Jared Carollo: Yeah, absolutely. So I joined BDO a little over a year ago and for my exact department, it was actually a brand new role. It wasn't backfilling and there was nothing really laid out before me.

And so it was a new role called the director of innovation and analytics. And so they really wanted someone who could kind of understand the operating reality of the business and then create a roadmap to the next evolutionary step. So I joined and spent the first few months, just really diving in and talking to as many people as possible, learning as much as possible across the whole company, not just the department and other countries as well.

And so that really gave me kind of a bird's eye view of the current states of the business. And along the way, I sat in on numerous client engagements and what my department specializes in is being the finance and accounting outsourcing solution for small to medium companies. So they're really the accounting department for these companies to do a lot of recurring processes, whether that's creating financial statements every month, running payroll twice a month, closing the bugs, doing journal entries to go from cash to accrual accounting.

And so as I sat and observed the engagements, I noticed that there is a lot of recurring Excel tasks being done that were just prevalent across so many of the engagements. And one thing that really stuck out to me is you would see these big, hefty workbooks in the first tab would just be an instructions tab.

And it would have dozens of just steps listed out to, you know, Download this report and paste it on this tab and then refresh these six pivot tables and then copy the pivot table into the section next to it and then go to this other tab and drag down the formulas and then hard code it so you can read special characters.

[00:06:54] Megan Dibble: This is giving me anxiety listening to this. I would definitely mess up if I was doing that. 

[00:06:59] Jared Carollo: Yeah, I know. These workbooks get operated every month for years and get passed between accountants. And yeah, if you literally miss one step and you don't drag the formula down to the bottom of the data, well, then your numbers are wrong.

And so when I saw that, Of course it immediately resonated that Alteryx could be a really good fit to help systematize and automate that type of work. And so I still remember the, what was definitely the fan favorite tool for the accountants was the join tool. So the number one task done in my department is reconciliations, maybe comparing your billing system and your accounting system or making sure your benefits are hitting your.

The company's checking accounts in a certain way or whatever the case may be is there's a lot of reconciliations being done which are Very often being done with just the lookups of Excel and it was a very cumbersome process. And so Alteryx completely saved the day. Whether that be just using the join tool to see which invoice numbers are in which of the two data sets, for example.

So I remember one situation where the account was in such disbelief. I literally had to explain it for 10 minutes like that. This is all that is needed. It's this one tool and it'll tell you which data is in which file and which is in both or not. And it took that, that 10 minutes to like convince them it's just that easy.

And then you could scale that up. 

[00:08:28] Megan Dibble: Right. Like these are really smart people, but they don't believe that it can be this easy. They're like, no, there has to be something more. We've been doing so many more steps. That's. That's funny. 

[00:08:38] Jared Carollo: Yeah, exactly. They might take them a couple hours to sort it out in Excel, and then you just come along and drag one thing in and say, all right, well, what's next?

Other kind of reconciliations that would automate 20, 25 hour engagements, um, and yeah. Massive cleanup of five, seven years of data with Alteryx. That was far more complicated than can realistically be done in Excel. So at this point, I've done over the past year, 55 projects, and that's saved, I think it was 8, 500 hours of just automating client engagements with Alteryx along the way.

I've sold it to the department over the year. It has been that with Alteryx, you just have to invent the wheel once. And so once you invest that time to create the system or assembly line for the data, you don't have to do it again. And it is just going to do the list of instructions that are typically on the first time, the Excel workbook, you just no longer have to do it.

[00:09:38] Megan Dibble: Totally. When we were chatting in preparation for this episode, we talked about How you've started up the center of excellence at your company. And so I'd love to hear from you on some of the challenges that you've faced in starting up that center of excellence and how you've overcome them. 

[00:09:58] Jared Carollo: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

So based on the success that I mentioned in the 55 projects and really doing a lot of road showing and jumping in on different emergencies to save the day or helping when there's turnover and this kind of thing, the department leadership really became believers in Alteryx and the potential and started to see the vision for it and wanted more of it.

I had to explain I only have two hands and so many hours in the day. I didn't serve. They, I convinced them of that and they, they got it. And so I said, yeah, there's only three paths to make that happen. Either we use our internal people and upscale them or we hire people or we get a consultant, there's only so many options here.

So we opted to go with option one, which is upscaling our people. And it's definitely the hardest option, but it could have the best potential benefit because we're investing in our people. That's going to lead to better retention of our folks. It's going to be the most cost effective. Leads to retention on that there already comes that know the engagements in the department.

So, by keeping it internal, it just provides a better experience for folks and are ultimately our clients and in some, I think, starting in August of this year, we. We had about 11 people volunteer and so they became what is now known as the Alteryx All Stars Network for the Center of Excellence. And my goal was to really enable them to succeed by giving them a lot of resources to learn it and a lot of time to learn it was critical.

So we did three months of formal training. The first half of that was done by professional trainers. I'd like to give a shout out to AB Data Consulting. They did a phenomenal job and have been very supportive of BDO. And then the latter half of the three months, I provided the training personally. So it was a good combination of AB Data, teaching Alteryx just from a purely technical standpoint of providing training.

What each tool does and how to drag and drop all the things out because no one had ever like really seen it before. And then I was able to follow up, um, with, okay, how do we take these textbook ideas and then bring them into the real world and actually apply them to, uh, client engagements. I'd go through my past engagements and show conceptually how do we apply this to create the solution for our clients?

And so they all got course certified, which is a huge accomplishment. And they all did, had to do a capstone project to really bring what they're learning into their own job and get their hands dirty beyond just the homework assignments along the way. So between the 11 of them, they each did a capstone project that saves 2800 hours a year.

They're just getting started. So we had a graduation ceremony for them to have a couple of minutes in the spotlight each. Yeah, I get to brag for a second about their accomplishments. And so part of the thread of the needle is that I'll have 20 percent of their time dedicated to Altrix automation, um, but they don't report to me, so they're going to have their standard jobs.

But part of their time is going to be carved out to support this initiative, to roll out automation across the department. So that'll be a challenge for next year to just manage the time and the priorities and the inevitable kind of conflicts along the way. But, it's been really wonderful to see them, to see them grow in this and be so excited about it.

So, some of the challenges that it took to get to that point and, and being able, being on the cusp of going live with this, I kind of think of in two different categories. So there was just some practical challenges to overcome, and then there was some personal challenges to overcome. And so the biggest practical challenge when starting Center of Excellence and really trying to institute change management within a company, it takes a lot of trust building and I, looking back in preparation, realize just how many different areas of trust had to get built.

So starting off with just trust in myself, I came from the outside. I Not a CPA. And I think for a while I was just thought of as this quirky pseudo IT guy that moves this tech stuff. And so I really try to get them to trust in me and trust in my vision and my evaluation of a direction for the department.

And so really intentionally. Tried to lead the way by really letting my work speak for itself and not being braggadocious or self promoting or screaming from the mountaintops or anything like that. Really focused on trying to be helpful on the client engagements or some back office projects. Doing the work and then letting that speak for itself.

Then, you know, Alteryx is a very powerful tool and creates very good outcomes. And so we use the lasting impact that said, you know, it's important to track your work and the impact. And as you roadshow, yeah, throw out some KPIs of the work you've done, but. I really just tried to let the work sell itself and get some positive word of mouth going.

There also needed to be trust built in kind of in the people themselves, especially the Alteryx All Stars with the Center of Excellence. It's something completely new, the tool, Alteryx is new to them. Just the way to think through creating automation solutions is new. And how to deliver to the client in this way is also just a new thought process.

Newness is exciting but very typically scary to most people. Yeah. And so I needed them to believe in themselves and I needed the department to believe in itself that something new can be accomplished. And so that was really Solved for by providing as many resources as possible. Alteryx, the company does an extremely good job with the amount of online resources being available through the Alteryx Academy, the extremely strong community and, and then having the external consultants provided a lot of just support around people's education and giving them a ton of outlets to, to seek help when needed.

So between me and others, I also trust that to get built at Alteryx as a tool. My goal was for them to not just hear it from me and not just think, well, this is just this guy, Jared's crazy idea. He just got to the company. What does he know? Um, and so I really focused on providing an external view and really showcasing that it's used by tons and tons of companies across probably all industries.

It's very prevalent in the accounting industry. And so it's well vetted and on top of that, it was used a lot in other departments within BDM. And so was able to connect internally to say it's working and our tax department is the ones who really brought it in a few years ago, but it's used in half a dozen others.

And then just the internal view within the departments of racking up the dozens of wins and be able to track and communicate that. And sell Alteryx as a tool. 

[00:17:14] Megan Dibble: Yeah, that's awesome. Got one more. Yeah, go for it. 

[00:17:18] Jared Carollo: Yeah, building trust in the idea of automation, uh, for my, uh, industry accounting, a bit of a challenge because the departments and just the whole industry is heavily based on billable hours.

And that's how revenue is generated. And so when you start talking automation, you start to see a risk to the top line. Ultimately had to sell the leadership on just the larger vision around automation and that there's a wealth of benefits to it can improve margin. Can build capacity, uh, within the ranks because people are able to do more with less time and that's, it's going to open up new revenue streams for us as we grow and develop, whether that's in Ultrix automation specific client service lines, but coupled also with analytics service lines.

So it's really opening the door up to a wealth of opportunities. 

[00:18:15] Megan Dibble: Lots of great knowledge shared with that question. Thank you so much. I really liked the approach you took with training too, that combination of the general Alteryx technical knowledge training plus training done by you on applying the tech and you have that business domain knowledge a little bit more.

So I thought that was insightful, needing that combination and it also tied back in with what you were saying about The different options you had when it came to scaling Alteryx and you guys chose to invest in people. And I think that you were able to keep that domain knowledge. And while you guys have put a ton of work, a whole formalized process into upscaling these people, that's not easy, but the payoffs could be really big.

And the fact that they're in your business, that. You all have invested in your people. I think that's just really cool. Great story. 

[00:19:12] Jared Carollo: Yeah, appreciate that. It's very exciting times and the all stars have, um, maintained their excitement throughout it. And so has the leadership. So I will tell, but we've got a really great chance to succeed.

We're not having an impact. 

[00:19:28] Megan Dibble: Great. So you talked a lot about some of the business challenges that you faced when starting up a center of excellence. What are some of the personal challenges that you face throughout this process? 

[00:19:40] Jared Carollo: Yeah, absolutely. Um, there's been probably more than a few, and I'm sure they're different for everyone that goes through the process of change management.

The number one personal challenge for me in it was related to patience, and it honestly has taken more patience than I thought that I had the capability for. Learning that, you know, Every company is different and every opportunity is different and going into it, knowing that patience is a critical component to change management, because ultimately there's only so much within your own control and that it is any kind of tough spot to be in because during change management, there's expectations.

You might have budget commitments, goals, and targets, but. You're operating within a company that might have hundreds or thousands of people. You don't have control over everything. And so, I've had to learn the lesson that I can't control the outcome. I can only control my part of the process. That has really given me the wherewithal to be patient through the process.

And be able to accept what is needed to be able to be successful in the end part of change management sometimes comes down to war of attrition. It's really a lot that you have to outlast, whether that's internal resistance or internal politics. Or apathy within the department or risk aversion or whatever it might look like for each opportunity for change management.

So it's, I think, a very important skill to be able to be patient, um, throughout that process, because it's very easy to burn out and get fed up or quit and say it's not worth it. And I think it's important to try different approaches of presentation or different approaches to the work or. Working with different people and having an open mind to what success looks like.

And I really try to maintain a focus more on my audience than myself. This was a lesson that I learned the hard way from my last company. To really put my ego aside and did what I needed to get out of. Kind of my work projects and really focus on delivering to my stakeholder what the stakeholder actually needed.

And so I think that has really allowed me to keep an open mind in providing solutions to my stakeholders because it's no longer just about me trying to do. The craziest, newest, biggest, bestest thing. It's really about solving my stakeholders problem, how they need it, when they need it. And that has really given me some release and space to be able to be open minded and ultimately deliver solutions.

[00:22:39] Megan Dibble: I'd love to hear from you on how you avoid burnout throughout all of this building and change management and all of that. 

[00:22:48] Jared Carollo: Yeah, burnout is definitely, um, very prevalent and I think the analytic space and most careers, it's a very real thing that needs to get managed. And so when I think about burnout just completely personally, what resonates more with me is actually emotionality than stress.

I personally can handle stress very well. But I struggle more so to handle the emotional impact of change management or of work. And so how I tried to manage, uh, the emotions of just having a job or having a, um, complex job is. One, just focusing on why I'm doing it and so with the all stars, for example, it has been really fantastic to be able to witness their personal growth and see them going from something completely new and foreign to just fully embracing it, dedicating a personal time, excited to show me what they've built and then hearing them want to align their careers with this.

That's just been a really great to see and similarly, I've gotten to see the leadership of my department, not really aware of Alteryx or knowing what it is and what it can do to now understanding it and getting even more excited, the opportunities and the analytics because it's all so new. Recently, their excitement was literally making me more excited and encouraged.

Throughout my career, I've always gotten a lot of personal satisfaction by making other people's day easier or less stressful. That stretches all the way back to, um, bringing Tableau into two companies ago, or her, even the FP& A work at my last company, which ended up having a lot of automation aspects to it in Excel, to now with Ultrix and streamlining client engagements, it's.

When you can make people's jobs easier, I always try to think of it as they're getting home sooner to have dinner with their family, or have more time helping their kids with homework, if their day is less stressful and they're able to be more present with their family, or dedicate time to their hobbies, or whatever that might look like for that person, and so that'll bring me back to center, and, and then lastly, Mindfulness is really important to me, so it's now become quite innate that throughout the day, multiple times a day, I'll naturally just check in with myself and understand where I'm at emotionally, and then be able to make micro adjustments, so I'll be able to check in and say, am I feeling overly stressed, or overwhelmed, or lost, or frustrated, and Or am I feeling happy and energized?

Am I feeling distracted? Is it hard for me to sit still long enough and stay focused and try to understand the driving force behind those and then make micro adjustments to course correct? I've got a little yoga area next to me. I'm also big on meditation. But it can also look like I just need to wake up earlier and start putting in more hours and that's going to have to be my solution for a few weeks to get caught up and not feel overwhelmed.

I might need to change between more complicated, easier tasks, or maybe it's ask for help and I need to delegate more. So it's a very fluid thing, but by managing just very tactically that that helps me avoid the burnout. It keeps me on track. 

[00:26:18] Megan Dibble: Thanks for sharing that. I'd love to end on if there are listeners out there who want.

To build up a center of excellence at their company, or maybe they've even been tasked with it. What do you think a good place to start is to start to get that buy in? 

[00:26:33] Jared Carollo: That's a great question. I think that probably the audience for this is quite self selecting and being very forward thinking and probably idealist to see that there's better ways to go about work.

And so the approach that I take is that I'm by nature an idealist and I can imagine what a more ideal future state is. Thanks. And so I try to encourage people that to embrace that and really try to take the parking brake off or your blinders off and fully jump in and explore what does a more ideal future state or ideal outcome look like?

And then really mentally walk through what does it look like? What are the goals? Who are the people involved? What would a timeframe be like? What kind of technology is needed? Would I need to learn something new? Do I need to learn coding skills? Or different products? Or more about analytics? And really create.

What that roadmap is just a pen on blank piece of paper or whiteboard and really free yourself limitations But after going through that exercise You then have to get your feet back on the ground and understand What is the operating reality of your current situation? And I think that duality of What is the current operating reality and what is this ideal future states can honestly be hard to operate and because it can be so different and especially people involved in change management can be a culminate of frustrating experience because you understand the ideal, you see the vision, but then you're still having to be hamstrung by the current state of affairs and.

So the way that I've been able to process and walk through that is after dreaming big, start small and figure out what are the small, incremental, consistent steps that can be taken to get from the current operating reality to the ideal state and what those steps could look like, and in my case, with the center of excellence was, you Getting the wins with Alteryx and knowing it's not going to take one or two or three, but it literally took 55 providing demos and one on one and like now I'm having to go through and work with some of the all stars and creating smart sheets and documentation guides and finding the opportunities through analysis to roll out Alteryx.

Making progress through the steps should give you some relief that you are making progress and you are working towards that ideal state and you just have to be comfortable being in the middle. It's not great to jump to the end of the story. Part of reading a book is enjoying, you know, each page as you go.

And if you only jump to the last page, the story's not all that meaningful. So, enjoy the process and being in the middle and be comfortable with that, but know that you're Um, working your way towards the, uh, towards the end of the story. 

[00:29:30] Megan Dibble: That's great. Well, thanks Jared so much for joining us today on the podcast.

I know I've learned some things. I think it's awesome. what you guys are doing. Shout out to all those all stars that graduated your program. I think their accomplishments should be celebrated too. And thanks for sharing all of your learnings with us. 

[00:29:48] Jared Carollo: Yeah. Thank you so much for being on our talk with me through all this.

I enjoyed the conversation. 

[00:29:53] Megan Dibble: See you next time. 

[00:29:54] Jared Carollo: Thanks. 

[00:29:56] Megan Dibble: Thanks for listening. To learn more about topics mentioned in this episode, including a blog written by Jared that expands on his tips for change management. Head over to our show notes on community. altrix. com slash podcast. See you next time. 

This episode was produced by Megan Dibble (@MeganDibble), Mike Cusic (@mikecusic), and Matt Rotundo (@AlteryxMatt). Special thanks to @andyuttley for the theme music track, and @mikecusic for our album artwork.